WEST HUMBOLDT PARK — Labor rights activists are pushing for better protections for the nearly 500 workers who will soon be at a future Amazon warehouse — and urging local politicians to not be financially swayed by the behemoth.
Union representatives and members of the West Humboldt Park Community Coalition and Black Workers Matter rallied outside 1260 N. Kostner Ave. on Thursday, carrying signs reading, “Amazon Bribes,” “No Tax Breaks For Union-Busters” and “No More Bad Deals.”
Howard Ray of the West Humboldt Park Community Coalition said he wants Amazon to sign a community benefits agreement requiring a $28.50/hour minimum wage and that 60 percent of employees live in the community.
“We never denied Amazon from coming here,” Ray said. “But we need them to be a good partner in our community.”
Organizers have been energized by the recent success of Amazon’s first union in New York, said Dan Giloth of Black Workers Matter. He said workers will make $18/hour at the warehouse.
“The [Amazon Labor Union] really re-taught us something that we knew: that you got to have shop floor solidarity, a good committee and strong leadership from workers,” Giloth said. “And if you support those people, you’re going to have power.”
An Amazon spokesperson said in a statement they are committed to offering jobs with immediate health care, parental leave and tuition support.
“We work hard to be a good neighbor and appreciate the partnerships we have in Chicago. We look forward to continuing conversations with local officials and members of the community to answer questions,” a company spokesperson said. “We also give back through donations and volunteer events throughout the year, and we’re continuing to try and do more to support the many communities that are excited to work with us.”
Many West Siders have pushed back against the Amazon warehouse since it was announced last year.
Amazon is taking over the 26-acre Kostner Avenue site formerly owned by metal manufacturer Allied Metal, and replacing it with a 140,000-square-foot “delivery hub” offering nearly 500 full-time and part-time jobs, company officials have said. Allied Metal will remain on the site for two years.
The project has the support of Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), whose ward includes the distribution facility.
But neighbors and community leaders have said company leaders and Mitts have routinely ignored their concerns about the retail giant coming to the area. Many have said they worry if the warehouse will benefit locals, if the jobs are long-term, and if the facility will increase property taxes in the area and drive out low-income neighbors.
Organizers also have raised concerns about Amazon’s pattern of building facilities in opportunity zones, part of a federal program that offers tax breaks to spur private investment in economically distressed areas. The West Humboldt Park warehouse is in an opportunity zone, according to state data.
Alderman and mayoral candidate Raymond Lopez (15th) and State Rep. Lakesia Collins joined the teamsters in support. Organizers invited three candidates for the 7th Congressional District — Kina Collins, Denarvis Mendenhall and incumbent Danny Davis — to sign a pledge to support a community benefits agreement and promise not to accept donations from Amazon.
Collins and Mendenhall signed the pledge. Activists criticized Davis for accepting a $1,000 campaign donation from Amazon and not attending.
“I would pose the same questions to Congressman Danny Davis, but as you see he’s not here,” Anthony Stewart of Black Workers Matter said. “We’re going to reach out again to change his mind and see if he’ll come to the side of the workers, the side of the people.”
Davis told Block Club he did not attend “basically because I was doing something else.” Asked if he accepted the $1,000 donation from Amazon, Davis said, “I sure did.”
“That’s no big deal, that’s no big thing. $1,000, really,” Davis said. “Their contribution cannot change my mind about supporting workers.”
Davis said he’s “in favor of every bit” of a community benefits agreement, including higher wages and local hiring, but was unsure about standing among the organizers after communicating with them on Zoom.
“One of the reasons I didn’t go was I didn’t know enough about what they were going to be saying,” Davis said.
Collins said her parents were in labor unions and she hopes Amazon workers in Chicago can organize for better conditions.
“Amazon raised over $33 billion last year and their workers are working paycheck-to-paycheck, that’s absolutely unacceptable,” Collins said. “What’s too much for me is people working over 40 hours a week and making slave wages.”
Mendenhall said he once worked for Amazon, “standing on my feet 10 hours a day.”
“Everyday you’re saying this isn’t right,” Mendenhall said. “People need good pay to provide for their families.”
Giloth said the Amazon site is expected to open in August and there needs to be “accountability before they even open the door.”
“Once workers are here, they can make up their own minds about how they organize,” Giloth said. “But for right now, we need to create a container of support for these workers, so we don’t play catch up later.”
Stewart said workers rights inside require politicians and corporations to “stop going through the motions.”
“We’re David, standing outside a fight with Goliath,” Stewart said. “We need them to fight beside us.”
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